Gustave Courbet described himself as the “proudest and most arrogant man of France” while he created art making people uncomfortable mid to late 1800’s. Courbet focused largely on landscapes containing water and did not want his emotions to seep through his work. By grouping his works focused on nature together, it is easy for the viewer to feel a strong emotional connection with the oil paintings. Although Gustave Courbet claims to paint void-of-emotion and imperfect scenes in nature, it is prevalent in his works containing bodies of water that he incorporates emotions into his scenes through formal composition and vast tonal range.
Courbet’s use of light creates drama by drawing contrast between the sky, foreground, rocks, and water. His intentions were not for viewers to feel emotion, but the contrast in tones throughout his work draw out an emotional reaction from the onlooker. Through using drawn out brush strokes and soft details, the paintings seem to be moving during a decisive moment in time. The snapshot of a real moment in nature is presented, and the viewer is left to interpret how they feel about the scene, but not encouraged to by the artist himself. This curation is meant to demonstrate that despite Courbet’s desire for realism and documentation, a strong emotional connection can be made with his water landscapes and a formal composition can be traced.
Gustave Courbet, A Brook in the Forest, unknown, Oil on Canvas, 67.212.
Even the title, A Brook in the Forest, shows how Courbet wanted his work to be purely what he saw and not emotionally charged. However the viewer can find more in the painting than just a brook in a forest. His use of light creates a dark scene taking place full of mystery and wonder. The dark shadows hide the true form of objects and it is hard to see through the reflection of the water. Some objects are distinct, but the softness with which he paints makes it hard to see everything in the frame. When the viewer enters the composition, they become uncertain of what lies ahead and begin to question the truth of the scene.
Gustave Courbet, The Source of the Loue, 1864, Oil on Canvas, 29.100.122.
In The Source of the Loue, Courbet draws attention to the tonal range by using piercing whites contrasted by the dark hole which the water is seeping out from. The water is rushing out of nothingness and the entire composition encompasses the cascading liquid. His use of darkness creates an ominous scene surrounding the light in the middle during a very real and live moment. The painting is frozen, but if you stare at it long enough it begins to slowly move and direct your attention the water over and over.
Gustave Courbet, The Sea, 1865, Oil on Canvas, 22.27.1.
Through dark tones concentrated in the bottom half of the painting, Courbet illustrates a very intense scene of a storm about to roll in. There is a glimmer of hope in the top third where the bright blue contrasts the dark clouds surrounding the fleeting light. It is easy for a viewer to be able to relate to the light taking on trials and hardship from nature against all odds. It appears that the storm will be eternal as it stretches past the horizon and because increasingly darker.
Gustave Courbet, The Calm Sea, 1869, Oil on Canvas, 29.100.566.
The Calm Sea uses some of the the lightest colors seen in Courbet's work and focuses on a tranquil scene taking place on the beach. The composition includes a shallow foreground over run by a sea of endless clouds encompassing the background. The coast and ocean only take up one third of the frame and the rest is focused on the sky. Soft brush strokes are used to create fluff in the clouds and the waves gently move towards the shoreline. This creates a calmness in the scene and everything just feels right as is.
Gustave Courbet, Marine: The Waterspout, 1870, Oil on Canvas, 29.160.35.
The waves crash among the rock and a stark contrast is created from the brights of the waves and the shadows of the rock. The rocks take on human form as they endure turmoil from a never ending storm. Formal composition is prevalent as the focal point becomes the rocks and the landscape is divided into three distinct sections. Courbet’s brush strokes and use of red make the clouds appear dark and even evil as the fill the top of the frame. It is hard to imagine this being nothing but a documentation, as very strong emotions can be pulled from staring at the beautiful oil painting.
Gustave Courbet, River and Rocks, 1873-77, Oil on Canvas, 22.16.14.
The muddy tones in River and Rocks are used to depict a scene of water surrounded by a vast canyon of rock. Grass, rock, and water blend together and are at times hard to separate from each other. There is a stillness as everything seems to be at place where it is at and no colors protrude from another. Everything blends smoothly including the blue sky. If Courbet wanted to depict what he actually saw, the sky would have stood out more from the shaded foreground. He uses the rule of thirds to divide the water, rocks, and sky creating a formal composition.
Gustave Courbet, The Hidden Brook, 1873-77, Oil on Canvas, 22.16.13.
Most people would have probably walked past this scene, but Courbet saw something hiding in the frame. Sometimes we overlook scenes in life that may mean something to someone else without realizing it. Courbet says that he doesn't want his audience to feel anything from his work, but it hard to think that way when viewing his pieces. The shadows are very dark and the whole landscape seems to be at peace. The water creeps out from behind the large cliff and trickles slowly across the landscape. The frame is distinctly divided into zones with the green, water, and brighter sky. Everything blends together and brush stokes create unity throughout the natural existing nature.